“Black Death” was an interesting movie to review. I’ll get into the reasons for that, beyond the subject matter in the assessment, suffice to say there will be a decent amount to cover. This is a movie that could have been great though, sadly it does not reach that.
First the issues of historical inaccuracies. I’ll let this review that didn’t enjoy the film go into them: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/mar/22/black-death-burned-at-stake.
“Black Death” was directed and uncredited co-written by Christopher Smith. The main writer was Dario Paloni and the producers were Douglas Rae, Robert Bernstein, Jens Meurer and Phil Robertson.
The story involves Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), a young monk with a secret lover who is sent with a group of men lead by Ulric (Sean Bean) to investigate why a village has been unaffected by the Black Plague. From here the story unfolds as the village is not all it appears to be.
Here is the assessment of the film:
The Pros: The Tone – The tone is dark and bleak and it works for this film, sadly there isn’t much else that is a pro.
Okay/Good: Ulric – Sean Bean’s character is interesting, but there isn’t much there. It is one of his more anti-hero/villain roles as he is killing people he thinks are guilty but does have a sense of loyalty to his men and the people he believes he is serving. This is contrasted with Langiva who is the leader of the village that in untouched by the plague. Sean Bean’s charisma is one of the few things driving this film.
Langiva – She is the antagonist, but like Ulric they are both are antagonists and protagonists in different ways. She saves Osmund’s girlfriend Averill, but pretends that she is raising her from the dead because she wants Osmund on her side. She is also merciless as she executes one of the men who renounce their faith and kills Ulric by dismembering him with two horses. We also don’t really get her motivation as she isn’t pagan and is more anti-christian than anything, her like Ulric deserved better development. Her performance here and as Melisandra did make me want to see Carice Van Houten in more things though.
Okay: Osmund – Sorry Redmayne, you were better as Marius in “Les Mis.” You do a lot of feeling but we are mostly told about your transformations into a witch hunter after you kill your girlfriend Averill and you are nothing more than a tool for Langiva and Ulric…His character arc doesn’t feel real and he spends most of the film crying. He does okay with what he is given, which isn’t much.
Cons: Averill – She’s a plot device to make Osmund go dark and become Ulric, nothing more.
Failure of Idea – The idea was to show how easily religion can be used to destroy heretics and those you see as a threat (Ulric and Langiva as the main folks doing this), but it didn’t feel that well executed because the world felt almost like a fantasy at times. Also the writing was at best okay and Redmayne cannot carry a movie…when he was the main protagonist of the film (though it’s presented as Sean Bean as the main protagonist via the cover). The idea of that and people can do crazy things when fearful and traumatized just felt hollow. We weren’t given any reason to care about these characters, which is a shame since the idea was interesting.
Writing – Why did Osmund become a monk? Why did he betray his vows to Averilla? How did he meet Averilla? When did the village go anti-Christian? What was Langiva’s motivation? Etc. So many questions and plot holes that become very apparent because the film is trying.
Would I recommend this film? No, I thought it was okay but it has so much wasted potential and no one really carries the film that it was in the end, below average. I wonder if the fact that 4 people produced it lead to the trouble with finding the purpose behind the films creation…and the changes the director made when he was a writer for the film.
Final Score 4.5/ 10